2017 was a pretty great year for cooperative games! I personally have bought over 30 cooperative board and card games this year! Some were bad, some were okay, some were good, and some were great! This list captures the best 10 (well, maybe 11 or 12) cooperative board and card games of the year.
One thing that was reinforced heavily this year was that cooperative games need a solo mode (aka Saunders’ Law). Recently, my friends and I, as a group, tried to learn Sword and Sorcery (a cooperative dungeon crawler). It failed. Miserably. It was just too much to learn as a group. (It might be a perfectly good game, but the group learning and rulebook were so frustrating, I haven’t been able to get it back to the table). This reinforced (to my group anyways) that someone needs to learn the game first, then teach it to their friends.
So, all the best games of 2017 below will also be graded on how well they follow Saunders’ Law: Does the cooperative game have a viable solo game?
Venom Assault (2016): Strictly speaking this came out in 2016. I received my Kickstarter copy (yes, there will be a lot of Kickstarters on this list!) in December 2016, and I don’t think it hit distribution until 2017. So, you could argue that most people didn’t get this until 2017. But technically, this can’t qualify for 2017, but I think it deserves a mention.
Venom Assault is a cooperative deck-builder set in the world of … something very similar to, but legally distinct from, … G.I. Joe. You play together as a group fending off the hordes of VENOM (the bad guys) as they threaten locations around the world/board. I love the art in this game: the art on the cover (above) belies the art on the cards. Every card looks like a panel from a well-illustrated G.I. Joe comic. The game is interesting too! It’s a deck-builder, but it adds a combat mechanism with dice that works pretty well. I haven’t gotten this to the table as much as I like, but I think this is a really good game.
Playable Solo? No, but it is easy to play 2 characters.
Battle for Greyport
Battle for Greyport (2016) is a cooperative deckbuilding game set in the world of The Red Dragon Inn. I did a full review of the game here. It is a pretty game, has lots of content, and was a lot of fun (although I wish it had solo player rules). Again, like Venom Assault, this came out officially in 2016, but Kickstarters didn’t get it until December 2016 and most people probably didn’t get it until the 2017. Fun game!
Playable Solo? No, and it is difficult to play solo.
Okay, let’s head to our top 10!
Number 10: Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game
Playable Solo? Yes, but needs some slight tweaking. See this post.
After all is said and done, I seem to like this game more as a solo game. It did okay with my game groups, but not great. I really liked it, though, and I thought it was very thematic. The art was great and the gameplay is short (30 minutes). It’s really easy to learn (the rulebook is good) and it has some interesting card mechanics I haven’t seen elsewhere. It’s not the best game in the world, but if you liked the Dresden Files book series, you will enjoy this.
Number 9: Rising 5
Playable Solo? Yes! And good rules for solo mode in the rulebook!
Given that this game is basically just cooperative Mastermind (a pattern guessing game), it went over very well both solo and with my game group. The game is basically two parts: playing so you are allowed to earn a guess, and then guessing the pattern. The art in the game was beautiful and the game is simple enough to get into quickly, but the pattern matching makes the game very thinky.
The art is amazing and really helps keeps you engaged. Simple, beautiful cooperative Mastermind.
See my full review here to see if you might be interested in the game.
Number 8: Witches of the Revolution
Playable Solo? Yes! And it has good rules in the rulebook!
This is a cooperative deckbuilding game. Yes, there are a lot of those around now, but this one is different in a number of ways. First, the theme is interesting! You are all witches working together to help the colonists win the American Revolution! (It’s a neat theme, but it’s not necessarily pervasive). As a deckbuilder, it has an interesting new mechanic: when you buy new cards, you destroy the cards you buy with! In other words, you cull your deck when you buy new cards. As you play, your deck tends to get smaller when you buy! Culling and buying are coupled into one mechanism.
The game has a pretty good rulebook. The game itself isn’t terribly complicated. The art isn’t great, but it’s good enough and thematic enough. See below. The cards and the components are good.
The board itself (above) notates a lot of the rules on the board itself, which was very helpful.
Overall, my game group liked it and I liked playing it solo.
This game definitely cries out for an expansion: I feel like this might move it up my list with a little more content.
Number 7: Tie!! Aventuria the Card Game and Gloomhaven
Playable Solo? Yes.
Some of you might be saying, WHAT? “How is Gloomhaven so low on your list and tied with a minor Adventure game?” Calm down, let me explain. Both of these games satisfy my “I want a dungeon crawl adventure game” itch. Sometimes I want a long crawl, taking all day. And Gloomhaven scratches that itch. But sometimes, I want a quick crawl, taking an hour. And Aventuria scratches that itch.
Aventuria reminds me a little of the Warhammer Adventure Card Game::
Warhammer Quest was a simple RPG-lite card game that cried out for more content, but unfortunately Fantasy Flight Games broke up with Games Workshop! And we never saw any more content (well, we saw 2 new characters but no new adventures). Aventuria fills the gap that WQ left: it already has 3 new adventures/expansions (which I already picked up)!
Gloomhaven, of course, has 100s? 1000s? of hours of content! It’s an amazing game! The gameplay is fun! The game is huge and the components are amazing! It’s an amazing RPG adventure!! Really!!! It’s Tom Vasel’s favorite game of all time! Only, I have a few problems with it (which is why it didn’t make it up further on my list).
- Playing Lawyerball. The rulebook is 52 dense pages. It is a very good rulebook! Let me make that clear! But, as I played, I felt like I was a lawyer reading Tort Law (“Section 3.2 refers to subsection 12.3 about the Stun rule”). I am sure that once I know the game, it flows faster, but there are a lot of rules.
- Set-Up. It takes a long time to set-up a scenario digging through all the cards and scenarios and markers. It can take a while and it will take it out of you if you aren’t in the mood. Again the components are AMAZING! But, sometimes I am not in the mood for 30-60 minutes of set-up.
- The Loot rule. I have played Dungeons and Dragon in MANY different incarnations (original edition, first edition, advanced, second edition, third edition, 3.5, Pathfinder). And, in 99% of those games, you kill the monster THEN you get the treasure. In Gloomhaven, you have to go out of your way DURING COMBAT to get your loot!! Which means, as soon as you kill the last Archer, you CANNOT get the treasure chest that was 20 feet away from the Archer because you didn’t LOOT during combat??? What??? This seems very athematic and it doesn’t make sense to me. This one rule really took me out of the game and frustrated me. I will get used to it, but it’s a rule that maybe belongs in a simple card game NOT a full-fledged adventure almost RPG!
Both Gloomhaven and Aventuria are RPG-like games I want to play. They belong together at number 7.
Number 6: The Aeon’s End Suite (Aeon’s End and War Eternal)
Playable Solo? Yes. And good solo rules in the rulebook.
Aeon’s End was a very pleasant surprise! I didn’t get to it right away, but once I did, wow! I loved it as a solo game and my game group loved this game. One of my friends even went out and bought it right away!
Aeon’s End (and War Eternal) are cooperative deckbuilding games. (War Eternal is a standalone game or can be combined with the original Aeon’s End). I know, there’s a lot of these on my list! But, Aeon’s End puts a real nice spin on the deckbuilding mechanic: you don’t have to shuffle your discard! Thus, when you discard cards to your discard pile, you can discard in any order you want so that you can build combos. When you are ready for more cards, you simply flip the discard deck over! No shuffling!
The players take the role of mages cooperatively fighting a big bad monster. You buy spells, relics, and gems (much like a Dominion style marketplace with cards and coin). But there’s so much more here! Spells, breaches, cooperation, major spells to be recharged …
When you first get the game, it does a VERY GOOD JOB of teaching you the first game! The decks are labeled and tells you what cards to put out first!
At the end of the day, we loved this game! It was fun, it was a good cooperative game for a group or solo play!
See my full review here if you are interested.
Number 5: Escape Room Games
Playable Solo? Sure, but then they are used up! These Escape Room games make more sense to play with a group!
Wait, do I see a list within a list? Do I see a GASP … sublist? Yes. There are 4 main sets of “Escape Room in a Box”. Unlock, Exit, Escape Room in a Box, and Deckscape. And those I played were a blast! Here’s my top 3!
- 3. The Unlock series. The House on the Hill went over great with all my game groups. Since this game is reusable, I was able to play it again (or rather, watch it be played) with multiple game groups! I wasn’t sure about the app integration at first, but it worked well enough.
- 2. The Deckscape Series. Deckscape: Time Test was a pleasant surprise. It was easy, fun, and we got through it in an hour. And its reusable! It was probably the simplest of the Escape room games, but it was really enjoyable.
Honestly, I thought this would be my number 1 Escape game. But then, one of them surprised me!
- 1. Unlock: Tonipal’s Treasure.
This is the closest thing to the Monkey Island video game I’ve ever played in a board game. As some of you know, I love Monkey Island! And this really reminded me of an Adventure Game. The time ran out at 1 hour, but we kept playing for another hour because we loved it so much! (Yes, it’s very hard). I liked this Unlock game so much I WILL PLAY IT AGAIN!! Yes, that’s right, a one-shot game was so much fun, I will play it again! So much fun!
Honestly, all the Escape Games I’ve played I have enjoyed. The Exit games are pretty amazing, but you can only play them once. At least the others can be played again by some of your friends.
Number 4: Unicornus Knights
Playable Solo? The rulebook does not specify a solo mode, but the game plays great if the solo player controls three characters in the game.
This game I truly like. I want to play it again and again. There’s some really interesting mechanics and art. It’s a cooperative game where the players work together to help the Princess retake her kingdom from the baddies. The only hitch, she’s very, shall we say “Spirited” and wants to just walk right in and take it back (and that’s a suicide mission). The players, as her trusted advisors, clear the way for the Princess so she won’t die before she gets to the big baddie. You go along her path and befriend or neutralize other characters who may try to stop her.
This game has so many things going for it. Great art, great new mechanics (the Fate mechanic deserves it’s own mention!), a great cooperative experience. It should a truly great game. (See my review HERE)
But the rulebook is terrible. The way combat is described seems easy until you go to play. There are so many unspecified combinations and ideas. This game might be higher on my list if the rules were better. A second edition of this game would go a long way towards generating interest in what I think, is a truly great game.
I still love it as a solo game, and my friends seem to like it as a cooperative game.
Number 3: Spirit Island
Playable Solo? Absolutely! Great rules!
Spirit Island is probably (except for Gloomhaven) the most complex game on my list. It has a lot of mechanics and rules, and is probably best described as a euro-cooperative game. Players work together as spirits on an island to beat back some settlers who are trying to colonize their island! It is the inverse of Settlers of Catan! But it is great. I loved it as a solo game, and all my friends loved it as a cooperative game.
The rules were complex, but I found the rulebook very readable. When I taught the game to my friends, I sat out and helped shepherd the game along:
As of this writing, the game is kind of hard to get a hold of. I originally got the Kickstarter, but CoolStuffInc keeps getting in stock and it sells out quickly. If you find the game, I strongly recommend picking it up. It’s great fun!
Number 2: The Captain is Dead
Playable Solo? Yes, but the suggested rules aren’t great. Read this blogpost for a better way to play solo.
This entry might surprise some of you. First of all, the original Captain is Dead came out quite a while ago (2014) as a Kickstarter using the GamesCrafter. The game did so well that AEG picked it up and reprinted it and the reprint came out in 2017. So, the AEG version is eligible for the 2017.
This game is awesome! It’s basically a cooperative Star Trek game! The captain of the Enterprise (or whatever the legally distinct name of the ship is) has died from the first salvo of an alien attack! The rest of the crew has to work together to get the ship out of there before the aliens take over/destroy the ship. Players play very recognizable characters (Transporter Chief, Engineer, Admiral, etc) and have variable player powers. (My favorite is the Janitor. It makes me think that would have made a great Star Trek character. But I digress …)
This game works great solo, and up to 5 players (and recently became my goto cooperative game for 5 players). But, it doesn’t work above that: we had proof of that at RICHIE CON when a 7-player game went poorly.
I love the theme, and I’ll play it anytime anyone wants to. My friends all liked it (except for the 7 player game) and I love love love playing the game solo. Such a fun and thematic game!
Number 1: CO-OP: the co-op game
Playable Solo? Yes, and there are several more solo modes on BoardGameGeek.
This game Kickstarted at the end of 2016, but the game wasn’t delivered until February 2017. This is kind of a cheat to put this on the list, because I designed it. But here’s the thing, I still like playing it! I have played CO-OP probably more than any of the other games on my list … combined! It has a lot of things I want in a cooperative game:
- Player Selected Turn Order: I get so frustrated when I can’t control the order of turns in cooperative games! If we are supposed to be working together, why can’t we go in any order we want? So few games have that, but CO-OP: the co-op does and it an ESSENTIAL part of the game
- Short Game/Small Footprint/Easy Set-up: It usually takes 30-45 minutes to play a game, and it’s a small box. The set-up … well, it is easy once you’ve done it a few times. I recently added a QuickStart Guide on BGG to help newbies set-up. Overall, it’s a game you can get going quickly.
- A Sense Of Humor: I love games like Spirit Island and GloomHaven, but they are all so serious! It seems like most cooperative games are SO SERIOUS! “Work together or we all die!!! Ahhh!!!” I learned gaming from the well of Monkey Island, which is NOT a serious game. It has a sense of humor, but still manages (in my mind) to be a great puzzle and a great game without sacrificing gameplay.
- Variable Player Powers: All the people at the CO-OP can do something different! Every time you play, you can play someone very different.
- Lots of “Bad News” Events: The “bad news” cards (Happenings) have enough variety to keep the game very different for a long time.
- Works Great Solo.
There are some shortcomings to the game (the lack of art/graphic design is probably the biggest shortfall), but at the day, it’s my favorite game of 2017 and I will play it anytime you want to. Or, I will play it solo anytime.